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How the biggest little design show in London grows the next big thing Add to ...

In its first year, in 1994, the London event called 100 per cent Design made everyone rethink the dreaded term “trade show.” It was there that the now legendary Tom Dixon and Jasper Morrison gave Milan and Tokyo a run for their money as masters of the design universe. The same year, a hundred British labels were launched.

In the decade since I started attending the event, I’ve watched local designers come out of the woodwork and go on to establish thriving careers: Naughtone, Sebastian Wrong, Andrew Tye, Alexander Taylor, Lee Broom.

As it happens, Britain’s biggest design names have outgrown 100 per cent Design. They’ve moved on to the now epic London Design Festival – a twoweek extravaganza – to show their work at studios around the city. But this has its benefits: 100 per cent Design, despite its successes, has found a way to remain grassroots, providing a launch pad for a new generation of designers.

Now, Italy, Japan and a dozen other nations have joined young Britons in showcasing products there.

The Scandinavians are consistent breakouts at the show, and this year Norway presented a highly organized collective. First-timer Caroline Olsson brought the highly praised Bambi table, which ticks all the classic Scandinavian design boxes with its austere aesthetic, petite dimensions and adaptability (it works as a dining table or, with legs folded under like a deer, as a side table).

And Norwegian photographer Tom Haga sewed up this year’s concrete trend with his clever collection of wallpapers, each roll a laser print of his high-resolution photography, featuring raw and refined cinder-block walls.

At the 100 per cent France booth, the crowd-pleaser Espace Loggia, one of the more established labels at the event, showed its remote-control Triptyque Murphy bed that rises along a track to the ceiling by day, revealing a banquette with storage; it can even become a desk or table if you bring it down to another level.

Among the other familiar names in attendance was Esprit. Who knew the German fashion brand has launched a home line? I was particularly keen on its new self-adhesive textile carpet tiles in palettes of grey, red, pink and off-white.

They come in a paving-stone shape, so you can fit them together in interesting arrangements and colour combinations.

My eco award this year goes to Italian architect Luca Pegolo of Nautinox Living, whose green wall was the first thing most people saw when they walked in the door, and the first thing I remember when I think back on the event – primarily because its contents were still alive, which is more than I can say for other living walls on display there. Pegolo’s succeeds because its latticework is deep enough to support pots of earth, like little window boxes. And you can plant climbers in the base to cover over the bald spots.

The runners up are the brilliant LED tea-lights by Hong Kong newcomers HoKaRé. If you’re like me and despise tea-lights and their flimsy aluminum casings, you’ll appreciate this permanent version, which comes in sets of 12 on a little recharger, lasts for hours and has a “flicker” setting.

I’ve left the home team for last, though not for its lack of lustre. Britain has set the bar high for ingenuity in design and it continues to surpass its own standards. Take the new London manufacturer/incubator D Haus, whose convertible table pays homage to Henry Ernest Dudeney, the mathematician who worked out how a perfect square can evolve into an equilateral triangle. This rotatable Corian table breaks down into six shapes, attached by removable hinges and fit with sliding drawers, book slots and a wine rack.

Hot off the presses, it was commissioned by Aram, one of London’s most influential contemporary-design retailers.

Reputable furniture-maker Hitch Mylius was the unofficial star of the Best of Britain booth this year for its HM63 modular seating, which comes in several organic, pebble-shaped parts. Kathleen Hills showed her Cluster pendant light, a tangle of bone-china bulbs that’s already making an impression on decor editors.

Honourable mention goes to the witty and brand-new Three Foot Three Design for its mod beech dining table that, when flipped over, reveals a beautifully carved railway track.

As for the Canadians, there were none, unless you count Karim Rashid, whose ceramics for Tau made an appearance. The word on the street is that this has to do with funding. “Nobody wants to spend money on publicity for design,” says Christine Samuelian, a Canadian who runs the Londonbased PR firm Friends & Co. She’s referring to the Canadian government.

“They’ll spend money on hockey. But they don’t value their designers.” The last time the Design Exchange, the national body that promotes the value of Canadian design, sent a contingent of homegrown designers to London was in 2008. Since then, Canadians have had to content themselves with local fairs like Toronto’s Interior Design Show, or foot the bill themselves.

In today’s economy, that seems fair enough. But the Brothers Dressler from Toronto deserve the sizable and avid design audience that London offers. So does Shawn Place from Prince George, B.C. and any number of the Canadians who show at the IDS every January.

If Hungary, Poland and Argentina found a way into 100 per cent Design, why can’t we?

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